The Problems Associated With Entrenching Dependency Among Student Writers

As far back as 1976 the legendary Donald Graves was writing and railing against what he called the ‘Writing Welfare System’ that makes student writers dependent on their teachers. Graves strongly opposed teaching of writing where the teacher controlled all phases of the process and consequently controlled the writer’s voice. It concerned him that student writers felt an implied pressure to make their voices the same as their teachers. All authority for the writing rested with the teacher. In such circumstances Graves observed, the student writer relies entirely on the teacher’s decisions regarding:

  • The need to write
  • When to write
  • What to write
  • To whom they should write
  • How to write
  • How the writing should be judged
 Graves noted that teachers were seldom aware when they were encouraging thinking that closely matched their own. They were unwittingly extinguishing divergent thinking and originality.

In such circumstances the student writer has no reason to initiate rehearsal around the writing task. They have no reason for the student writers to invest energy in thinking about possible topics. There is no cognitive collaboration in these situations between teacher and the developing writer.

This research took place almost 40 years ago. The sad fact is that there are still classrooms that operate in this manner.

Let’s challenge this line of thinking; this approach to writing that fails to empower the writer. Let’s think about suitable actions to turn such circumstances around:

The need to write  
Provide models of effective writing, authentic  and purposes for writing
When to write  
Provide options regarding time and place for writing
What to write  
Provide genuine choice, invest in thinking, and demonstrate trust
To whom they should write
Provide a range of authentic audiences
How to write  
Provide authentic models and mentors
How the writing should be judged  
Provide opportunities for self assessment, reflection

It is often said that writing develops courage. It also takes courage, a clear knowledge of writing,  plus a fair degree of self belief on the part of the teacher responsible for teaching writing to mindfully share control with student writers.  Graves said it all when he wrote, ‘What is not valued by teachers is seldom introduced into the lives of children.’


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